PSA Aims to Alert Responders to 'Silent Killer'

The silent killer for the fire service is carbon monoxide and the IAFF and the IAFC, have launched an educational campaign to raise awareness of its dangers.

Aptly called "The Silent Killer," the health and safety campaign includes a six-minute video that highlights the immediate and long-term risks connected with carbon monoxide exposure. It's aimed at raising firefighter and responder awareness to the dangers of the colorless, odorless toxic gas.

The video can be viewed online at TheSilentKiller.net and DVDs will be widely distributed to fire departments throughout the world.

"Carbon monoxide (CO) is a significant and deadly occupational risk factor for firefighters," said Harold A. Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters. "We know that carbon monoxide is present in every fire and symptoms of CO poisoning are nonspecific and easy to miss. Any firefighter potentially exposed to CO and presenting with headache, nausea, shortness of breath or gastrointestinal symptoms should be assessed."

At the heart of the campaign is the video which was produced and narrated by Randolph Mantooth, widely recognized for his portrayal of Los Angeles County Fire fighter/Paramedic "Johnny Gage" in the popular 1970s NBC Universal television series "Emergency!" Mantooth is a vocal advocate for CO awareness and prevention since his own near-death CO experience 20 years ago.

"Too many of our fire rescuers and first responders do not believe they too are in danger and, consequently, do not adequately protect themselves from becoming unknowing victims of CO poisoning," said Mantooth "That's why it has become my mission to ensure that each and every firefighter and emergency first responder knows and understands these significant occupational hazards, how to properly protect themselves, and how to prevent unnecessary health risks to improve the odds that they will be around tomorrow to do what they were born to do."

According to experts, carbon monoxide poisoning is a danger at every fire, but it's present without symptoms, making awareness, proper diagnosis and treatment difficult.

Firefighters on the scene of a fire are at a significant risk because even mild carbon monoxide poisoning can rob the brain of oxygen which and lead to poor decision making. It can also rob the heart and vital organs of oxygen, causing life-threatening complications.

Historically, half of all on-duty firefighter deaths have been attributed to heart attacks or stroke and depriving the heart of oxygen exacerbates heart conditions and puts stress on the vital organ.

Just one severe carbon monoxide poisoning event nearly doubles the long-term risk of death, according to experts.

The educational campaign urges firefighters to take personal responsibility for their health and safety by recognizing the occupational hazards of carbon monoxide exposure. Wearing protective breathing apparatus during active fire fighting and overhaul operations will help prevent unnecessary risks, according to campaign information.

It also encourages fire fighters to get their CO levels tested on the fire scene with an approved noninvasive portable device and, if elevated, to seek immediate treatment, even if they are feeling well.

Chief Jack Parow, IAFC President and Chairman of the Board, said; "We are pleased to be a part of this important educational campaign. Carbon monoxide is a real risk that firefighters and first responders face every day. With the proper awareness, precautions, and testing, we can prevent firefighter deaths and extend lives."

The IAFC will be assisting with distribution of the video, including sending complimentary copies of the video to its membership. "As with many issues, education is the key to success," said Parow.

Also lending assistance to the project was Masimo, a maker and marketer of noninvasive patient monitoring technologies.

"We are proud to have supported the development and dissemination of this educational material for fire fighters and first responders," said Masimo Founder and CEO, Joe Kiani. "The 'Silent Killer' campaign is our opportunity to help save the lives of the men and women who put their lives on the line everyday for each of us. We know that the more successful this campaign is in reaching and educating them about the hidden dangers and risks of carbon monoxide poisoning, the fewer of our heroes will become victims and have their lives shortened by carbon monoxide poisoning."

The new website was specifically developed to help raise awareness among fire fighters, first responders, emergency medical service (EMS) personnel, and their friends and families about the unsuspected occupational dangers of CO poisoning and how best to protect themselves.

Designed as a destination site for all emergency first responders website features the new video along with a host of other important health and safety resources, including:

  • CO Fact Sheets with medical/scientific information about the health and safety risks of CO poisoning.
  • Special CO supplement published in the Journal of Emergency Medical
  • Services titled "The Silent Killer: CO Monitoring Adds a New Dimension to Firefighter Rehab & Emergency Care."
  • CO screening and medical monitoring outlined in NFPA 1584: National Standard on the Rehabilitation Process for Members During Emergency Operations and Training Exercises.
  • Links to other fire fighter, first responder, and EMS industry websites and resources.
  • Free online ordering of "The Silent Killer" DVD, as well as other available resources.

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